06/12/2013 05:06 EDT | Updated 08/12/2013 05:12 EDT

Ontario farmers being recruited to plant hazelnuts; grow anywhere apples are

SIMCOE, Ont. - Ontario farmers are being recruited to start growing the province's newest crop — hazelnuts.

"Hazelnuts can be grown anywhere in Ontario that apples are, and the revenue potential for this crop is significant," John Kelly, vice-president of Erie Innovation and Commercialization, said Wednesday in a release.

Erie Innovation and Commercialization, an initiative of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, said there's market potential in Ontario for hazelnuts that's equivalent to about 10,000 hectares (25,000 acres) of trees.

It can take four years for hazelnut trees to start bearing fruit and seven years before they hit full production. By then, the potential net return is estimated at $2,000 per acre.

"This is an exciting new opportunity for Ontario farmers, especially for those who farm in our current tree fruit growing areas, such as Essex and Niagara," Kelly said.

Ferrero Canada of Brantford, Ont., which manufactures Nutella and Ferrero Rocher chocolates, imports hazelnuts for its products but would be interested in accessing a stable, locally grown source, the release said.

Researchers have been screening hazelnut varieties for resistance to eastern filbert blight and the ability to withstand Ontario's climate, as well as establishing methods for fast and reliable propagation of seedlings.

The project involves the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, University of Guelph, Ontario Centres of Excellence and industry partners.

For information, contact Erie Innovation and Commercialization at 519-426-7913 or visit